EweLineFall is definitely here, with cool nights, and finally, some rain, after a long drought. In August, I weaned all the lambs, and put the ewes in drylot on hay for the short term. This saves the green grass for the lambs, giving the fields a rest until fall rains refresh them. It also gives me a good opportunity to walk the line and look at the condition of all the ewes, survey their udders, and spot any problems that need addressing before breeding season in November.

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imageA few notes from a meeting I attended in early August, on the newly-forming farmers’ cooperative, North Cascade Meats (also on Facebook here). We have very limited options for USDA slaughter in our area, which makes it nearly impossible to sell meat by the cut to consumers and restaurants. This group intends to change that, by creating a cooperatively-owned USDA slaughter option.

Currently, I only sell lamb on the hoof, to either customers who have it processed by a local custom-exempt butcher, or to customers who can do their own processing. This works for me right now, as I don’t produce that many butcher lambs, and they all sell out. But looking ahead, I am interested in other channels in which to sell lamb, as I increase the size of my herd. And, it would be nice to be able to give out, or sell, samples to people considering buying my lamb. Thus, I have been watching this group with interest for quite some time.

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imageI frequently have people ask me how to figure out live- versus hanging-weight, and how much they are paying per pound for their final cuts of meat. It can be very confusing figuring out the whole “weight thing”. I worry that consumers will feel misled and be frustrated if we aren’t transparent with them about how it works.

Case in point- here is an anonymous post on craigslist from a week or two ago, from an obviously disappointed lamb customer. I have no idea who this is, nor do I know the two farmers to whom he/she is referring (but I know from the descriptions neither one is me!).

A lady advertised her lamb weighs 110-120 lbs and the actual hanging weight was 75lbs according to the butcher’s written receipt, and I received about 40 lb of meat. The second time, the other farm processed the whole lamb for me. They bagged and wrapped the box and put in the trunk for me. It weights only 40 lbs from a 100 lb lamb, and visually inspected after I got home – all four leg meat were missing. Buyer beware, so I learned.

So, how does it really work? This person’s example is actually a great one!

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imageThe sheep industry in the United States has been on a long decline. Sheep were popular here since the Pilgrims landed, but post World War II, the inventory started to tank. And has been ever since. In recent years, components of the Farm Bill have invested in figuring out why, and how to reverse the trend. This National Academy of Sciences consensus report, written in 2008, outlines an analysis of the problem and indicators of where things look to head in the future.

The Lamb Board was established in 2002, and has been investing significant effort in branding lamb (not the hot iron kind, but rather the marketing kind) to help it make a comeback. Given the beef industry’s powerful Beef, it’s what’s for dinner campaign, at some point, somebody must have realized lamb needs the same marketing oomph. Plus some, because it’s so far off the radar of most Americans, we can’t just encourage them to eat more of it; we really need to re-introduce Americans to the meat to get them to start eating it.

Of course this initiative needs to be paid for. So a law was introduced to tax sheep at the time of slaughter. It’s called the Lamb Checkoff. The beef industry also has a Checkoff program.

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This and that which I read recently and thought was interesting…

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SumnerHSI had forgotten to write more about the WSU Lamb 101 class until now. After we watched the Halal slaughter demonstration and toured the facility on Friday, we want to Sumner High School for the rest of the class. First, I have to say, I was really impressed with Sumner and their high school! I’m not sure I’ve ever been to the town of Sumner, and honestly, I unconsciously assumed it was some kind of scrubby, low-income suburb of Puyallup. Not so!

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Premier 1 Sheep Supplies had a great article written by one of the participants of their Ireland tour. It’s interesting to me to see how different their meat sheep look, and I love the author’s reference to the “tubular” shape of show meat sheep here. The Irish Texels are extremely “beefy” by comparison.

In the WSU Lamb 101 class I took a few weeks ago (and darn, I’ll try to write more about that) there was discussion on dressing percentage. They felt that average dressing percentage for sheep is around 50%. This is the percentage of weight lost between live weight and when the slaughtered animal has been bled out, skinned,  beheaded, de-footed and the abdominal cavity emptied. So all of what’s left is what can be cooked, though there are still a lot of bones in there.

At the class, they discussed that shipped sheep, which have been eliminating for 8-24 hours and not eating or drinking, can yield higher dressing percentages- high 50% and maybe sometimes topping 60%- because they are very “empty” at the time of slaughter. And by comparison, they said to expect grass-fed sheep to yield very low dressing percentages, because they are full of grass and water. They were training us to be mock auction buyers (and we held a mock auction using photos and descriptions of sheep)- and that you’d want to pay less per pound live weight for a grass-fed sheep straight off of pasture, versus one that had been shipped overnight.

I find that the Katahdins hit the mid fifties coming straight off the pasture. And Katahdins are fairly fine boned, so the loss of bone weight post-hanging is probably less than a lot of big-boned show sheep breeds. So I do think the shorter-statured, heavy-bodied sheep tend to yield more pounds on the table, despite their dwarf-ey appearance. And it would seem the Irish think so too!